back to article Microsoft's Linux patent bingo hits Google's Android

Talk about dissonance. On the day Microsoft crowed that it was letting its employees contribute code to an open-source project, Joomla, it fired another shot at Linux. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a patent agreement with phone maker HTC that provides "broad coverage" under Microsoft's patent portfolio for HTC devices …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Statute of limitation

    It's a shame there's no statute of limitation type restriction on this kind of patent FUD.

    MS keep spouting out this "Linux violates our patent portfolio but we won't be specific."

    If a company makes a public statement like this they would have a specific period of time to make it stick in court or lose the option permanently.

  2. Joe Montana


    Couldn't they be sued under current libel/slander laws?

    They are making derogatory claims and should be required to back those up in court or retract them.

  3. tonyoung

    Missing the point!

    I think a lot of you guys may have missed the point - just because MS has not publically announced which patents are the subject of these licencing deals, it certainly doesn't follow that the OEM/distros and their lawyers who are on the receiving end of this hot (and expensive) correspondence haven't been told.

    Confidentiality agreements will have almost certainly been built into the deals so that the next distro won't know what the last one had agreed to. That's the way it works, boyos, here and over the Pond.

    And to help those who have mentioned it, yes, anyone can search for a patent using the owners' name or applicable key words - and they can do it on the interweb, even!

  4. Jesse Dorland
    Thumb Down

    Linux going banana

    It's just a matter of time before Linux world become part of Microsoft, or worst Apple!

  5. alain williams Silver badge

    Who owns Linux ?

    The point is that it is not owned by any one person, so it cannot be bought or whatever. This is deliberate.

    What could happen is that the in USA it becomes impossible to use Linux without payment to microsoft; but that will just damage the USA economy - the rest of the world where we do not have s/ware patents could happily continue.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thats a shame

    I was going to buy an HTC Android phone but I wont now.

    I will never support Microsoft's FUD campaign or any company

    stupid enough to believe it.

  7. Jerome 0


    That's right dude, stick it to the man. Microsoft will no doubt be devastated to learn that you are refusing to buy their competitor's product. I doubt they anticipated this turn of events! Perhaps you could really hammer the point home by purchasing a Windows Mobile device?

  8. Random_Walk
    Thumb Down

    Let the shakedown begin?

    *sigh*... if only there were a corporation that were not only bold enough, but big enough to tell Microsoft to name their claims or bugger off.

  9. Marvin the Martian
    Paris Hilton

    Apple would be a candidate?

    What functionality is on a HTC android phone but not on an iPhone? So what patent claim did they wield at HTC which Jobs wouldn't be vulnerable to? I honestly can't think of something.

    [Obvious fact that there isn't linux/android on iphone is irrelevant to functionality-based patent claim exposure, AFAICS.]

  10. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Read the article

    It says the patents have to do with the Linux kernel. As the icultphone doesn't run Linux, Apple will simply not be affected by this bullshit. Even if they'd want to stand up against m$, they would have no legal standing in this case.

  11. Jerome 0


    "What functionality is on a HTC android phone but not on an iPhone?"

    Multitasking, background processes, multiple customisable home screens, widgets, folders, Flash support and installation of any application of the user's choice.

  12. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    The "Greedy" Borg doesn't seem that greedy?

    One thing no-one seems to comment on is the number of these M$ patent deals that just get signed off without the usual bad press and court threats. Either M$ is really going at the target companies with an absolutely airtight case, or I suspect they are actually pitching a quite reasonable pricing structure which leaves the "victims" deciding it is cheaper to simply pay up rather than litigate. Whilst some will say that M$ is large enough to intimidate most companies, the total lack of counter-suits so far seems to indicate they have struck a good balance.

    It will be interesting to see how the Palm angle pays off now that they are in hp's clutches - will M$ ramp up the rate to punish hp for buying a competitor to Win Mobile or are hp and M$ so close it doesn't matter? It could explain why hp were keener on buying Palm OS than going with Google's Android.

  13. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Gates Horns

    Bah! Humbug!

    I think you have hit the nail on the head Matt, of course it seems reasonable, it's all part of Pinky and the Bains's.... eh!... MickySoft's master plan to take over the world. This in classic Mickysoft extend, embrace, extinguish. HTC have developed a phone interface based on Google's android, so why don't MickySoft go after google?

    The simple answer is that is easier for bulliboy MickSoft to go the small soft targets like TomTom and HTC first as they probably do not have the resources to fight MickySoft in a legal war of attrition.

    The motivation for MickSoft is that they establish a legal precedent for receiving royalty payments and by not releasing the details of whet they claim a patent they create even more FUD with the third party innovators which in turn is another incentive for the third party creator to pay the license fee to MickySoft.

    Eventually MickySoft will have "established" patent "ownership" over a range of terminologies at which point they can raise the royalty payment to such a level so that it be economically impossible to compete with any MickySoft product.

    This is the way MickSofy is going, from a technology innovator (even if it is somebody elses idea) to a patent troll, because lets face it, since windows XP and Word 2000 etc. there is no real need to upgrade a MickySoft product unless it is out of warranty support. The only big revenue stream left to MickySoft is the license scam

  14. Craigness


    It's Microsoft, not Mickysoft.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Re: MS

    It's actually Mickeysoft, in tribute to another company who uses legislative instruments to undermine competition and genuine innovation.

    As for Mr Bryant's remark about forcing a pay-off, that's precisely what the modern patent system is all about: a bit of extortion and someone (albeit in a suit) coming round to collect "protection money".

  16. Antidisestablishmentarianist
    Gates Halo

    Nice one

    Microsoft are arse, but anything that can wipe a bit of smug off a open sourcerers face is just fine my me.

  17. kissingthecarpet


    judging by your nick, you are a supporter of a political position that originated in nineteenth-century Britain in opposition to proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England, that is, to remove the Anglican Church's status as the state church of England, Ireland and Wales.

    And I thought my nick was a bit silly

  18. ratfox Silver badge


    Basically, Microsoft can lean on about any company in the world, and say:

    "We think that maybe you owe us money. Now there's the easy way, and that is very easy. You pay a license fee, and that's the end of it.

    Of course, you can also try the hard way. We have plenty of lawyers. We have plenty of money and we think nothing of a ten-years long legal battle, which would take 50% of your resources, and 0.1% of ours. Now which will it be?"

    Schoolyard bully... On the other hand, Vetinari would be proud.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Sadly... won't be the end of it. Something Don Tono-Con-Faggioli might well admire.

    "Tell you what, you pay us some money and we'll make sure nothing happens to you. Be a terrible shame if something happened to your business, eh? Fire, *tch* nasty, very nasty! No what what I mean John? See you next week, for the next payment eh!"

  20. heyrick Silver badge

    El Reg would be a shadow of its former self...

    ...if it wasn't for all this patent nonsense to report on.


    On a more serious note - are companies actually paying Microsoft for some sort of protection against patent infringements when Microsoft is failing/refusing to explicitly state what said infringements actually are?!?

  21. Penti


    It's starting to look like SCO. Sure Microsoft probably owns patents recovering parts of Linux systems (they do own several multimedia patents, but those are licensed from mpeg-la, which official andriod phone makers license), but this none disclosure and ambiguous policy just is bullshit. Microsoft themselves have contributed Linux kernel code (for hyper-V), validating the project. Why would they give code and help to something infringing their property.

    TomTom where never convicted of infringing the FAT-patents either way. And with Microsofts involvement in the SCO affair this just reeks a revisit.

    Intellectual property is a bitch, and MS themselves known that, having gotten verdicts of billions of dollars against them, though successfully overturned them. The XML deal they had no option but to comply though. Either clearly state and reach out (like through licensing pools) or shut up and let them produce compatible software which is allowed by the copyright under the compatibility clause every country has. And if you produce ("open") documentation for technology you better damn well clearly state whatever terms comply for them. Any widely used patents need to be available through a none-discriminatory manner (RAND). Otherwise they are useless. And they are useless for open source projects if they can't be freely used without fees. Either let the community (which is IBM, Redhat, Novell etc) produce compatible software or state every patent which is infringed so it can be challenged. And any code which they themselves or through proxys (Novell or other contracted companies) has contributed should not be legally allowed to be claimed intellectual property by them if it was released under a open source license, not stating any restrictions, it then should be considered royalty free for any use if it's included in a project where there's no need to buy patent licenses, otherwise it's easy to stop free distribution of software by just putting in a vital piece of code which can't easily be replaced. And later claim infringement, by their own actions...

  22. tonyoung
    Thumb Up

    This all about cost

    Yep, it's ALL about cost:-

    1. The cost of MS developing the original code and having the ability to patent their innovations (nothing wrong with that and a granted patent is suggestive of novelty).

    2. The cost of researching a potential patent infringement by either party (see below).

    3. The cost of intellectual property litigation (the only winners are the lawyers and IP specialists are VERY costly)

    4. The (presumably) very low cost of licencing MS intellectual property for use with OEM hardware (MS has tied up so many of these deals - apparently quite easily - so there must be some substance either to the low-cost argument or in the strength of the MS patents).

    Just because the patents in question have not been publicly announced, it doesn't mean that the OEMs haven't been made aware of potential infringment by MS's lawyers.

    This is just a good tactic - if you can get away with it - and personally I always applaud innovation in all it's various guises!

  23. kissingthecarpet

    Just shows how software patents

    are just a way for lawyers to buy Ferraris. Only in America.....

  24. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Patent != innovation

    I found one patent on making a blinking cursor by repeatedly XORing the cursor content with current screen content (DUH). In the US this is more than innovative enough to get a patent. The USPTO does a disastrously bad job of checking for prior art, leaving it to courts to find out which patents are innovative, and which not.

  25. Craigness


    "Just because the patents in question have not been publicly announced, it doesn't mean that the OEMs haven't been made aware of potential infringment by MS's lawyers."

    That's an interesting way to interpret the term "broad coverage".

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Monetization of Patents = Antitrust?

    I prefer the old business model of making money by selling a better product, not this new one where a company simply makes sure the competition is restricted from being better.

    When a company's business model turns to profit by restricting the innovation of others and charging another company for making a competing profit through patent trolling it's a strong signal of a failing business trying to scratch out every last cent prior to implosion.

  27. Ryan Clark

    Not New

    James Watt was restricting competition using the steam engine patents hundreds of years ago. MS are using the old business model.

  28. elderlybloke

    Dear Roger

    Patents were used more recently by the Wright Bros to try to get payment from anyone in USA who wanted to construct an aircraft.

    That left USA lagging behind Europe for a long time.

  29. Tim Bates

    They'll never say until they are forced to.

    Why would they say which patents they are worried about? It would allow people to avoid them. Keeping quiet means companies pointed at just pay up rather than risk legal action.

    I'm hoping MS make the mistake of pointing at Google or someone like that soon. Once the fan meets with the faeces, they will have to say which patents are concerned... And the open source developers can get on with fixing the situation.

  30. Neoc


    "On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a patent agreement with phone maker HTC that provides "broad coverage" under Microsoft's patent portfolio for HTC devices running Google's Android."

    Someone please explains this to me: Company A (Microsoft) believes that a product (Android) produced by Company B (Google) infringes on their patent. Fair enough so far. Company C (HTC) uses the product from Company B, so Company A wants them to pay royalties. OK, this is where I lost the plot. Surely the chain is A -> B ->C... If Microsoft believes that Android is infringing on its patents, surely it should be suing Google (who make Android) and not HTC (who uses Android). Didn't make sense when SCO did it, why is it supposed to make sense now?

    That's be like asking a home-owner to pay a fine because the builder was using sub-par materials and breaking the law.

    Oh, and I *was* a happy returning HTC customer. Until now. If they're willing to cave in on something this stupid, I'm wondering about the rest of their business choices.

  31. MinionZero

    This tactical game has far reaching long term implications...

    @ "Company A (Microsoft), Company B (Google), Company C (HTC)"

    So your question is, why would A go after C, but not B. The simplest literal answer is that B (Google) has much more money and a much higher public profile to be able to effectively fight off A (Microsoft). If Microsoft tried to ask Google to pay up, they know Google would very publicly tell Microsoft to F'off and where to go and jump, because Microsoft can't frighten Google. So the only chess move then open to Microsoft, is to move to take legal action against Google to force them to pay up (or back off in shame proving to the world Microsoft don't really have a case against Linux). So Microsoft know in a legal fight, A vs B is a lot harder to win than A vs C and such a legal battle would generate a huge storm of publicity. It would be so big just about every media outlet in the world would want a ring side seat to watch a Microsoft vs Google battle over Linux. So Microsoft don't want a high profile battle. They want lots of easy quiet victories, which collectively add up to an implied win over Linux.

    Microsoft are playing a very tactical game (targeting an audience of non-technical high up powerful people with their *PR battle* against Linux). The Microsoft tactical game is to imply Linux is copying them, rather than *proving* Linux is copying them, because lets face it, if Microsoft had strong grounds to take Linux to court to be able to prove such a direct violation, they would have done it many years ago without hesitation. Therefore Microsoft cannot prove wrong doing, so they are trying to imply wrong doing.

    This game has far reaching implications. The first thing Microsoft are achieving with this tactical game is to frighten companies into signing up with Microsoft. That is operating literally like a Protection Racket! ... its bullying people into giving Microsoft money. Thats bad enough, but worse its frightening other companies into complying with Microsoft's bullying tactics as well.

    But even worse the more companies they frighten into signing up to the idea Linux needs to license from Microsoft, the nearer Microsoft moves to winning the grand prize of saying to everyone, hey look all these companies say *in writing* they know Linux needs to license from Microsoft, so everyone must now license from Microsoft and sooner or later a non-technical judge will agree with this idea.

    After all the law already recognizes the idea that an unprotected idea falls eventually into the public domain. Therefore by constantly *implying* protection is needed against Linux violating Microsoft (as Microsoft are trying to say), then they are trying to prove that they and many companies all agree Linux violates Microsoft. Its a very underhanded attempt to imply wrong doing.

    Microsoft know they can't win a direct legal battle against Linux, because they would have tried already if they had a hope in hell of winning. They absolutely would have definitely tried, so its glaringly obvious that they haven't yet tried a direct assault on Linux and haven't tried a direct assault on Google. But make no mistake, sooner or later they will try a direct assault on Linux (and in doing so try to undermine Google), once they have enough frightened companies signed up to say in writing, they all think Linux violates Microsoft.

    So Microsoft are playing a very insidious tactical PR battle/game against Linux.


  32. Chris 155

    Open Source != Free Software

    Microsoft is at the moment at least pretending to care about promoting open source which runs on windows and doesn't compete with Office. It's in their best interests to do so as it enhances the Windows environment and makes their product more desirable. Open source is after all people doing development for free, and every corporation likes that.

    As part of this, they are willing to coexist at least nominally with open source software which doesn't benefit them. They want to make a buck off it if they can, but they're ok with it existing even if they don't. This is mostly because trying to destroy it cost them more than it gained them, but Microsoft are a for profit company after all.

    On the other hand, they would probably very much like the free software movement to cease to exist, which is perfectly fine since the free software movement would very much like to see Microsoft cease to exist. Free Software and Microsoft are fundamentally incompatible, and are likely to remain so for the forseeable future. There's still a war there, and there always will be.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Very nice...

    I don't want to get all Microsoft bashing, but if ever I have seen a great example of the old "extend embrace extinguish", this is it. They have obviously put the willys up those over distros, enough to make them want to sign a "safety' agreements. The last part may not be quite so much extinguish for the moment, especially if it proves to be a cash cow for them, but once they're bored with it, what then? Lock it away in a code vault never to be seen again, except to defend in litigation?

  34. zanto

    it's not long before

    you buy the phone hardware, come home, connect it to a pc and load whichever fucking os you want it to run. give phones the ability to boot of a flash card and no pc required.

  35. ted frater

    dealing with a crook

    Well, this is bad news, but thats what one can expect from Microshaft.

    when is a Co that uses Linux, thats big enough to stand up to this bully?

    Mike Shuttleworth of Ubuntu was approaced by the evil empire and effectively told them to get stuffed.

    They havnt been back.

    Now if I was dealing with them, id ask what patents were infringed then blow the gaff on them by telling the rest of the world which ones they listed.

    When dealing with a crook and thief there are no holds barred.

  36. DJV Silver badge


    ...someone anonymous at one of the "shafted" companies like HTC will post info onto Wikileaks about some of these MS patents involved in these deals. It would be an interesting show if we find that some of their "patents" only cover "obvious" stuff that should never have been allowed to be patented in the first place.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Mike Shuttleworth?

    Is that Mark Shuttleworth's "harder" younger brother?

  38. Glen Turner 666

    Only one side of the story.

    What is HTC's view of this? For example, is it a two-way license with settlement (in which case HTC get paid for HTC I.P used in Microsoft products)?

    The media release is very vague of the form of the patent agreement.

  39. Thomas 18

    More lawyers than coders?

    I wonder at what point Microsoft will employ more lawyers and patent clerks than coders. Course goes without saying Apple & Google are just as bad.

  40. Kevin Bailey

    It's always been a lawyer based firm....

    It's always been a lawyer based firm - Billy boy's dad was a lawyer and set the tone from the beginning. Money first - use this technology stuff to screw clients who don't know any better.

  41. P Saunders
    Paris Hilton

    easy money

    Just collect royalties for patents you may or may not own. Extortion with a suit and tie.

    Paris, 'cause I gotta think of something other than the sheer chutzpah of it all.

  42. Chemist

    Renegade ?

    "Google's renegade operating system"

    I couldn't find a dictionary definition of renegade that fit with your usage !

    The two main definitions seem to be :

    1.a person who deserts a party or cause for another. apostate from a religious faith.

    Google only ever seems to subscribe to the religion of Google and has never deserted itself AFAIK

  43. Anonymous Coward

    It's time to draw a line.

    Why don't we as a community gather behind the next victim of Microsoft's mafia offer "you can't refuse"?

    Wouldn't the F/LOSS community (including the "ecosystem" of companies that work on and support F/LOSS) be able to take Microsoft to court when all would chip in? I can imagine the goals would be something like:

    1) to get Microsoft to show which patents are violated, first for the victim then for all F/LOS software.

    2) cast doubt about Microsoft's "patent" portfolio and show the maturity of the F/LOSS community

    3) to keep the court(s) (?) busy for as long as possible and drag our feet as much as we legally can, so Microsoft will be bleeding lawyer fees for years to come. This will hopefully wake up Microsoft's investors.

    I for one would be more then willing to pay monthly donations for this good cause.

  44. Shagbag
    Thumb Down

    ***rolls eyes****

    I see MS hasn't managed to put together a case against Red Hat despite the latter's public "no thanks" to MS's offer of 'protection'.

    What upsets me is not so much MS's spin on these agreements (that they're somehow only cover use of Linux when they actually are a blanket agreement covering all OSes the counterparty is using) but the media's constant reporting of these claims which lend tacit support to them.

    The facts are these:

    MS has been making these unsubstantiated claims for several years now and no one has gone to court.

    The media continue to report these agreements whenever the MS press office announce them.

    The media never report on MS's failed attempts to negotiate these terms (save for the Red Hat case I mentioned previously), thereby knowingly or unknowingly lending further credence to MS's claims.

    MS has not negotiated such deals with the likes of IBM, Oracle et al who all actively Market Linux based products and services.

    IBM have said publicly that they will use their formidable patent portolio against MS if the ever try it on.

    It is clear to me that MS are simply using the mass media as a tool in their efforts to try and discredit the undiscreditable. C'mon guys, how about some balance in the reporting of these things?

  45. Chris 69

    Of course they don't go after IBM, Apple, Oracle et al

    All the big players will inevitably be crossing each other's patents and there's no point trying to create a mutually destructive patent war. No point

    It is pretty obvious that the patent system is so badly busted that nobody can develop anything without falling over some bizarre patent owned by someone else. I once worked for a company which was attacked on a hugely wide-ranging (I think they had patented something like "managing stuff by using a computer") patent recently granted to another even though we could demonstrate that I personally had been using the technique for 10 years before the patent was applied for (and I'm pretty sure it wasn't entirely original then. I probably "borrowed" the idea from somewhere else.).

    So folks... keep amusing that cat with a laser pen and someone will be coming to get you!

  46. Anonymous Coward

    Isn't there a law against this?

    I'm probably wrong (I usually am), but isn't there some law (at least in the UK - dunno about the rest of the world) on the lines of "if you know a patent of yours is being infringed but you choose to do nothing about it, then you loose the right to claim against the patent in the future". ie - you MUST defend a patent in order to maintain control over it.

    If MS "know" that Linux is infringing a MS patent, and chooses to ignore the problem then it follows it can not then (later) complain. I know that it isn't completely ignoring the problem (it's raking in cash from anyone who'll listen to it), but it's clearly not going for the obvious targets; the Linux distributions. It's only going for the big corporate users of Linux. I wonder what a court would make of this - why is MS not suing the SOURCE of the problem rather than the end user. We all know the REAL answer, of course, but what would it tell a court?

    On a side note, if we all dumped Linux and used something less eclectic like BSD then we wouldn't be in this mess. As far as I know, MS is making no claims against BSD. Considering the use of the GPL in Linux, and industry's general dislike of it, I do wonder why the huge embedded market uses Linux rather than something like BSD which doesn't suffer from the GPL problem.

  47. elderlybloke

    Isn't there a law against this?-Mk2

    You need to defend your patent to maintain it, so if you ignore others who use it ,you will loose it.

  48. Pinky

    Not patents - they're selectively defended..

    You're thinking of trademarks. Trademark dilution results in the effective loss of said mark (e.g Hoover). Patents can be licensed and enforced very selectively, which is why companies like Microsoft love to game the system like this.

    Personally, I would like to see the text of this agreement - I'd be willing to bet that there is no specific patent mentioned in the agreement, making this a no-sue covenant, not a patent licensing agreement (which should state the patents and covered products).

  49. Andy Eastham

    Patently Rubbish

    Once again we see patents doing the exact opposite of what they are intended to acheive. The patents are clearly stifling innovation. Microsoft won't even tell us which patents have been violated until we violate them. This is indefensible, and the sooner we sort this stone age system the better.

  50. Thom Brown

    They've sunk even lower

    So Microsoft has become a parasite now?


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